A New Age of Pinball Has Arrived
For the most part, pinball machines have always remained a great way to kill time while waiting for your laundry to dry, or a way to impress friends by racking up a high score at the local arcade. As these unique mechanical devices slowly go the way of the dinosaurs, their legacy lives on in the form of pinball video games capable of bringing interesting concepts and fresh designs to the table, many of which simply aren’t possible outside of the digital realm.
With its wildly imaginative interactive fantasy setting, a downright wacky storyline, and a playful artistic style, Flipper Critters for DS is a prime example of one such title. The game takes players to the moon and back with some off-the-wall gamplay while keeping a foot on solid ground with an excellent pinball foundation.
If it’s not already somewhat obvious from the exterior packaging, players will immediately notice the cuteness factor in Flipper Critters is dialed-up to nearly overwhelming levels. It’s a senses-stimulating combination of colorful visuals, silly cartoon-like characters, and an upbeat, happy-go-lucky soundtrack which seems destined for the hands younger players. Don’t be fooled. If you look beyond the cushy, candy-sweet exterior you’ll find some of the fiercest, and difficult, pinball action to grace the DS.
You’ll embark on a wild adventure with Gawain “Tiger” Chesterton, a striped tiger with a hero complex, and Bubba “Monkey” McManus, a goofy monkey who loves to fill his belly. The pair sets off to help out their pal Fluffy “Bull” von Gigglestein who is suffering from a nasty cold. Before long, they find themselves embarking on a series of increasingly odd heroic errands with some fairly bizarre plot twists. The game follows a light-hearted story which spans across a variety of interesting locations, each featuring some unusual inhabitants. Players must travel back and forth between different map areas in the realm to complete missions ranging from collecting snacks in various locations to save yourself from becoming a meal for a beastly dragon monster’s offspring, to gathering birthday presents for your sick friend. You’ll play in an old castle, town squares, mountains and valleys, and on the moon, among other cool places. Each pinball table consist of a highly detailed fantasy environment, complete with different tracks, tons of switches, bountiful bumper objects to hit, and goofy characters to interact with.
Flipper Critters is perhaps the first DS title to have full-blown 3D graphics occurring simultaneously on both screens, and the visuals definitely look pretty sharp. The bottom screen focuses on the foreground action, while the top screen offers a view of the background and skyline. When the ball flies into an element, or up a ramp to the background, the top screen often zooms in on the action. Several towns allow for complete 360 degree wrap-around gameplay while others feature tables with multiple vertical tiers to travel up and down. Both screens keep busy, packed with a surprising level of detail, and each table is excellently designed.
Even with the heavy use of dual-screen 3D graphics, Zen Studios found a way to keep the game running at a swift and steady frame-rate without any lag. The ball mechanics are smooth and realistic. It’s an impressive accomplishment considering there’s so much happening at once. Though incredibly simple by design, the basic mechanics of twiddling two small paddles to propel a metal ball across a field of buffers, ramps, sinkholes, and goals, have long been turned into a highly skilled form of art by those who exhibit a flair for pinball wizardry. You’ll have to channel this kind of skill, and bust out some serious classic tricks, if you want to succeed beyond the first few towns in Flipper Critters. Control-wise, any button on the left side of the DS will control the left set of triggers. The opposite goes for the right side. On most levels, players will have to tap certain switches, ramps, and other elements to activate them with the touch screen in the midst of some fast-paced gameplay. This leaves little time to pull the stylus out, so the touch screen is best handled with a quick tap of the fingernail. Mastering the hold move – where you engage one of the flippers at just the right time in order to actually get the ball to stop and rest on it – is crucial, as it allows you to take a breather for a moment and use the touch screen if necessary.